Welcome to Part 2 in a 5-part blog series designed to help you set yourself up for success in the New Year. In this installment, I’m looking at the fine art of embracing your gut instincts and why it’s a good idea to listen to your Inner Cave Girl when drafting goals.
I’m a scientist who likes to keep things simple.
Not because I can’t handle details, but more that I’ve learned during my many years in the lab that time, money, and energy get wasted when brainiacs get lost in the details and lose perspective of the original goal.
My love for the simple also comes from having spent way too long in a microbiology lab dealing with “little life forms”.
What I’ve learned (and been beaten over the head with) from working in this field is that really complex (and convoluted) things happen when super simple (albeit it, big) things happen to trigger them.
And since the world is a big place with lots of super simple (albeit it, big) things happening in it all the time, it’s a given that complex, convoluted shit gets triggered by silly simple shit that could have been avoided (or encouraged) by controlling the simplest of things.
- To encourage bacteria to grow, it needs (in its given environment, at a minimum) air, water, and energy.
- To stop bacteria from growing, take away all the simple shit (air, water, and energy) it needs to grow.
- To evaluate how bacteria can evolve or adapt to a new situation, then grow it in an environment without one of the three super simple things (air, water, or energy) it needs to grow.
Or slightly different to force change with a purpose…
- To challenge the bacteria to adapt to a new environment, then trigger it to adapt (remove one of the 3 requirements) then give it something new to adapt to.
You have an aerobic (oxygen loving) bacteria and want it to adapt to an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment… then remove the oxygen in the system and replace it with carbon dioxide.
The bacteria will either adapt and overcome or… die.
Bacterial death sounds horrible. Ominous. And the end of the story.
But it’s not.
Because when a bacteria colony or single cell kicks the bucket, it lyses (or breaks open) and releases all its goodies (innards) into the environment.
Sound horrible… until you realize that bacteria just executed a (for the greater good) sacrificial death routine worthy of an Oscar. How so?
Well, what’s inside the cell?
Things another cell needs to survive and reproduce. (Nucleic acids, DNA, RNA, salts, water, proteins, sugars, metabolites) These items can be absorbed and then used by the other cells to continue the good fight or… live and survive.
Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself… how in the world did we get so many antibiotic resistant strains developed in the 20 century?
Simple. The weaker bacteria sacrificed themselves and their resources to the greater population in order for the strongest to adapt and overcome. The resources were then absorbed and used by the stronger cells to trigger specific changes inside those cells so that the child cells they produced… had the genes and mechanisms necessary to survive in an antibiotic soaked environment.
Sucky as it may be that the very thing that cures us now can also screw up healthcare for future generations, that example is great for illustrating the first rule (tenet) of biology, or Life, where all biological organisms seek the same thing:
To Live (and be happy).
To Grow (and be happy).
To Reproduce (and be happy).
To Survive (and be happy).
To maintain and achieve the alive (and happy) state, all organisms (for the most part) have something hardwired into their makeup that I refer to as…
Adapt and Overcome
Adapt and Overcome is a mechanism. A Hail Mary play that is coded straight into our simplest user manual–our DNA.
DNA is passed down from one generation to the next–through reproduction. As each generation experiences new challenges, new code gets added–or removed–to adapt to changes in our environment.
We can easily see adaptations in bacteria because they have a quick turn around time to make new generations. Some bacteria double (or reproduce) to make new generations in the matter of minutes (some E. coli can double in as short as 20 minutes). Other bacteria take hours or days.
Humans take years. Decades, really. To double, that is. But humans still retain the same adapt and overcome mechanism that bacteria do.
Only difference is… that adapt and overcome is something that can happen during life, slowly and then get experienced and then… slowly get recorded so some of it gets passed down.
But not all of it. Not in a single generation. But in four or five generations… over a couple hundred years… yeah, changes and adaptation can be observed over 100s and 1000s of years.
So why is it that human beings don’t show those changes as quickly as bacteria?
Obviously, it’s due to generation doubling times (years versus minutes). Another thing is the complexity of the human beings when compared to simple singe cell organisms. All good, logical, explanations, but…
There’s another thing that’s been playing on my mind lately when I think on this topic… game models. Specifically,
Finite Game Model v. Infinite Game Model
A Finite Game Model is a game (or event) where the players are playing by specific rules for a specific, declared outcome. Like Baseball, Football, Soccer, etc.
An Infinite Game Model is a game (or event) where the players are playing for a higher reason and will do whatever they have to in order to achieve that higher reason. Like… playing to survive or live.
For the record–I didn’t develop this theory. I learned about it when I stumbled across it while watching and listening to several videos by Simon Sinek (an Optimist and Motivational Speaker who specializes in Leadership Development).
But once I did hear what he had to say on it, I started thinking. About more than just my goals, but also those for characters in the stories I write. Then I started thinking about the many times I heard Tony Robbins say…
If you want to succeed and be passionate about what you do, then find a cause that is greater than yourself. Do it for your family. For humanity. For someone other than yourself.
For years I couldn’t quite grasp why Tony Robbins was saying that. Then I heard Simon Sinek explain the game models, offer up several examples (one in particular resonated with me), and then it clicked.
So now, I’ll share.
If you pit a Finite Game Model player versus another Finite Game Model Player, then the system works and there will be a Finite Goal achieved at the end of the game.
(example: Baseball and the NY Yankees v. Chicago Cubs)
If you pit an Infinite Game Model player versus another Infinite Game Model player, then the system works and it’ll be equal, sort of, and most likely a long game.
(example: The Cold War and USA v. USSR)
If you pit a Finite Game Model player versus an Infinite Game Model player, then the system breaks and the Infinite Game Model Player will outlast the Finite Game Model Player and no specific (finite) goal will be achieved.
(example: Vietnam War. The US was fighting to win a specific outcome, the Vietnamese were fighting to survive. No specific outcome (victory) was achieved, but the Vietnamese outlasted the US.)
So going back to the Bacteria discussion… it occurs to me that bacteria play by an Infinite Game Model. All the time, every time. The play to survive and live. That’s why they adapt so much more readily than more complex organisms. Because fighting for a higher simpler goal (to live) is easier to weld into their makeup and pass down through the generations.
Humans on the other hand, they’re more complex.
In ancient times, yes, the rule was do whatever you can to survive. But as we started to evolve and domesticate ourselves… new things popped up that we wanted, which created Finite goals and… diluted or muddied the quest for the Infinite Game Goal (to survive) when we started developing Finite Game Goals (win the shiny new car, win the baseball game, win the specific goal on my 2018 task list, etc.).
So as I sit here thinking through this revelation, it hits me that humans struggle more to create goals and win because… they have two different game models playing in their head at any given moment.
- The ancient brain plays by an Infinite Game Model (to Survive, Live, Reproduce–and be happy).
- The modern brain plays by a Finite Game Model (to win a specific goal in a specific game with set of rules–to be happy)
The ancient brain is simpler and set in its ways. It seeks “To Survive” at all cost.
When the ancient brain fights the modern (thinking) brain on what the physical human body should do, think or believe… who wins?
The ancient brain.
Why? Because the ancient brain plays in an Infinite Game Model and will outlast the Finite Game Model player (the modern-thinking-brain), thus breaking the modern (thinking) brain and forcing the modern brain to concede defeat. (or quit trying to pursue it’s finite goal.)
But how does the ancient brain break the game and win (by default)?
Yes, I know it’s because the ancient brain outlasts the modern thinking one, but how does it break the modern brain and force it to withdraw?
With brute force (a deluge of emotions) and an infinite source of willpower powered by your own beliefs and core values… to affect a specific outcome.
(aka, Inner Cave Girl’s Way or the Highway)
Okay, think on that a moment while I walk through some examples that happened to me in 2017.
I mentioned in the previous post (Part 1: Getting your head on straight) that I had a conversation where I was confused about what I felt I needed to do and what I thought (or saw) I needed to do.
I felt I needed to do my website and blog.
I thought I needed to write new books.
As a writer, looking at that situation, it appears (from a logical standpoint) that the logical, smart thing to do would be to write the books. I 100% agree with that.
But I couldn’t make it happen.
Truth was–no matter how hard I pushed myself–I couldn’t write new material without feeling something I hate to feel–guilty and wrong.
Sad, but super true. So, being me, a scientist and a creature driven to find logic where none exist–I acknowledged this situation was driving me crazy–insane, even.
Which was probably the best thing I could have ever done for myself, because it reminded me of a definition that has helped me more times than I can ever recount in my career as a scientist and that is…
So yeah, me beating my head against the wall and trying to write new stories when my gut was saying go build a website and freaking blog… that was the definition of insanity and had to stop.
And it did.
I stopped pushing the new story content and then shifted gears to build the new website. Started building the website in late November 2017, then finished in early December 2017.
Once done I felt… like I’d done the right thing. I felt happy. Like I was on the right track.
Hooray! This meant I could go back to what I wanted to do, write new stories, and–
Because my gut was very specific about what I needed to do and it was a two parter.
I had to build the website and blog.
“I hate blogging.”
–Me, mid-December 2017
Yep, that’s exactly what I said in the middle of December 2017. I whined it like a champ. Fought to avoid blogging like my life depending on it.
Naturally, my life didn’t depend on avoiding it. Even though that’s what I told myself I believed. And so I started another round of push Ellie Mae back to what she loves to do… writing stories.
“Why do I still feel like I must blog to survive?”
–Me, late December 2017
Because my ancient brain said so.
Because my ancient brain, that place that controls my gut (survival) instincts, said the only way to survive as a writer and have the writing career I wanted… I had to blog.
More specifically, I had to create new content and a schedule to post said new content and I had commit to it and be consistent with it.
“Fine. Whatever. I’ll do it.”
–Me, December 30, 2017
That day, as soon as I caved in to my inner cave girl’s demands, I sat down and started drafting a plan. At first, I had no idea what topics to write about. No idea what type of schedule. Then something miraculous happened.
I started feeling my way through it. I felt like I had to write about what I know. What I’ve learned. My perspective on how to launch (and relaunch) my writing career. Not just my writing career, but any writing career.
Three hours later, I had an entire blog list and schedule planned out for all of 2018.
–True Story, Me, December 30, 2017
No shit. I really thought making that blog topic list and schedule would take days. I mean, I was envisioning my life flashing before my eyes with nothing to show for it as I tumbled into the abyss of writers who never made it.
But I did it. I scheduled out an entire year’s worth of topics and posts in between lunch and dinner.
And I felt great. On top of the world. So on top of the world that the very next thing I did was… try and push myself back into writing new books.
Why in the world am I fighting my gut instinct this time?
WTF is wrong with me?
–Me, December 31, 2017
Answer to that was simple. And so freaking stupid that I’m seriously contemplating never looking at my emails again.
I got an email from a writers group loop discussing New Year’s goals and suddenly felt the peer pressure of wanting to fit in and write new books.
Are you freaking kidding me? I–me, the person I know as Ellie Mae, who repeatedly lectures her kid on the woes of succumbing to peer pressure–I fucking caved to peer pressure? What. The. Fuck.
Yes, yes, I apologize for my language–but for crying out loud. I’m an adult. I don’t cave to peer pressure. Yet, I did. Gladly. Gleefully. And with much vigor.
Damn it all to hell in a hand basket doused in flammable glitter.
Now, I’m back to square one and my flipping inner cave girl is bitching at me to write the flipping blog posts.
And my stupid modern brain is freaking whining she wants to write new books because that’s the only way to get my career where it needs to go and… holy shit.
I really am, my own worst enemy.
Because my gut is right.
I do need to blog to build the kind of writing career I want in 2018.
–Me, January 1, 2018
I cannot tell you how much those two freaking days sucked. I had to put up with the whining, bitching, and moping from my modern brain. She demanded I fit in and be like all the cool kids.
What. Ever. I’m not like the other kids on the block. I have never been like other kids on the block. I have–and always will (probably)–march to my own damn tune.
This marching to my own tune thing has been bred into me. It’s been battle tested. I’ve been in the trenches of hell with nothing but my instincts to guide me. I’ve been homeless. I’ve lost my home. I’ve been jobless. I’ve been flat ass broke. And I pulled myself out of those situations using the best damn thing my ancestors could ever give me.
My Gut (Survival) Instincts
Those gut (survival) instincts guided me to go back to college. To get my degrees. To get a job. To stop fighting to keep a house I never really wanted in the first place. Then pushed me to do whatever the hell I had to do to survive. And I did it.
I, now, have a damn good day job. It’s crazy, yes, but it more than pays the bills. It’s the exact type of day job I need to give me the (financial) freedom to do what I have been wanting to do since I first accepted that friend’s dare in college (to write a book with a better plot than the one I’d just read).
Which all leads me to the inevitable conclusion that…
My Inner Cave Girl isn’t fighting against me to win.
She’s fighting for me to win.
At all cost.
To Live (and be happy).
That’s great, but doesn’t explain…
Why the hell I am still fighting her?
stupid damn good at fighting the good fight, have practiced it for years, and made it a (God, save me) habit.
A stupid habit, but a habit nonetheless. One that our environment–our society, our tribe, our family–the people who touch our lives and, either intentionally or unintentionally, seek to (or simply do) influence.
Not influence out of malice.
I can’t believe it’s out of direct malice–for the vast majority. But out of concern. For their welfare. For ours. Because we–like bacteria–live in colonies. In clusters. In groups. In families. In tribes.
When groups see an individual who is different–weaker, stronger, doesn’t matter–they seek that person out. They invite them into their world as a leader (as something to protect) or as someone weaker who doesn’t fit into the system mold… who need to get left behind as bait or kicked off the island to protect the greater good.
It’s Survival of the Fittest. In it’s ugliest form. And it’s been going on since the dawn of time. To protect the species as a whole. To build new tribes. New groups. Because there is safety in numbers.
Or at least that’s what our ancient brain tells us.
And if we can fit into our current world, then what do we do? We seek to adapt, change, and overcome… by creating a new tribe that can survive.
And that call to join a new tribe. Ooh, it’s potent. Alluring. Sexy as hell.
But is it right for us? Is it in alignment with what we are seeking to achieve?
Maybe. But is it in alignment with what we need RIGHT NOW?
My gut says… not right now. But soon, yes. Soon–after I write the blog posts–it will be exactly what I need.
And so… I write the blog posts.
And feel great doing it.
–Me, late evening January 1, 2018
Actually, I fast draft wrote 5 blog posts January 1, 2018. Fastest damn time I’ve ever written a blog post. Previously, it’s taken me days to get one and hours to get it right on the page.
But on January 1, 2018, when I was working in alignment with my Inner Cave Girl… words just poured out of me and I had a 7,000+ word day.
And it felt freaking amazing. Like crack for my soul amazing. And I wanna do it again. Over and over and over again. Not only for blog posts, but for the new books Ive got on the desk to get written. And I’ll get to them. As soon as I get through the posts on deck to be written this week.
But to do that, I have to wrap up this post with some closing words and maybe a summary list. 🙂
The point to this entire post (and series so far) that I’m trying my best to make is…
- Behind every behavior, there is a reason.
- Behind every broken goal or commitment to yourself or others–there is a reason.
- You either believe that goal needs to happen (get achieved) or don’t.
- If you think that goal needs to happen, but don’t feel it needs to happen–then it won’t happen.
- If you think and feel that goal needs to happen, then it WILL happen.
To make goals and plans for a New Year that will be achieved and completed, then you MUST align your ancient and modern brain. They MUST be in alignment to work together towards a common, agreed upon goal.
If I tell a writer, “You must write new books to grow your career.” Then yes–undeniably YES–that is something that MUST happen. But WHEN must it happen? Now, or in two weeks after you’ve done the thing you feel you need to do?
And it is all about feeling. Because the Inner Cave Girl (Boy) doesn’t use words to communicate. She uses feelings. Impressions. Sensory data that has more impact and can’t be misconstrued.
Oh yes, the Inner Cave Girl (Boy) can make you feel sad. Or happy. But when you examine the feelings of sadness and happy, they really have varying degrees of sadness or happiness. There’s miserable, grumpy, angry miserable, depression, hopeless… and happy, giddy, ecstatic, delirious with joy, proud… the list of words to describe a simple feeling can go on, and on.
But the point is–when she issues a feeling, she gets your attention. Immediately. And she holds it. Forever. Until she gets what she wants. And God help you if you don’t give her what she wants. Because no amount of drugs or chocolate or whatever will ever replace the one thing we all crave…
To be in alignment with our Inner Cave Girl (Boy) to do exactly what we need To Live (and be happy).
Which leads me right into the next topic in this series…